Metrolinx went into damage control over sponsorship controversy

Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig addresses media after announcing a short list of 11 investment tools...

Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig addresses media after announcing a short list of 11 investment tools that will help decide how transit expansion is funded in the years ahead. (JENNY YUEN/QMI Agency)

Shawn Jeffords, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

TORONTO -- Media coverage exposing Metrolinx's troubled sponsorship program prompted a high-level meeting between the agency's CEO and the minister of transportation who together devised a strategy to "minimize" the brewing controversy.

At the same time, a now former Metrolinx employee suggested the agency follow the advice of a consulting firm paid for by taxpayers to "starve" a reporter working on the stories of information in a bid to end the coverage.

CEO Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Glen Murray met a week after QMI Agency published a story on the agency's promotional partnership program and freebies given to staff through it in August 2013.

Through a Freedom of Information request, QMI Agency has obtained an eight-page briefing note McCuaig prepared to bring Murray up to speed. The document outlined "tactics" Metrolinx used to respond to the story and provided an on-going strategy to "minimize the impact of the coverage."

"Our objective should be to continue to limit the story to the Toronto Sun," McCuaig says to Murray in the briefing note. "My sense, though, is this will continue for some period of time, as I believe that the Sun has decided to focus its attention on Metrolinx for a period of time."

Murray and McCuaig agreed that the government's message should be distilled down to five points which largely stress that the problems have been fixed. However, one deals directly with the stories themselves -- "This is not news. It's been over for a couple of years."

Murray will stress this to point to reporters, McCuaig says in an e-mail to the Metrolinx board.

The note says the agency's strategy moving forward is to focus on the board of director's oversight and update on specific policies including partnerships, conflict of interest and receipt of gifts.

Metrolinx later commissioned accounting firm PWC to conduct a review of the sponsorship policy after weeks of coverage by QMI Agency. On Friday, Metrolinx released that audit to QMI Agency. It gives the new sponsorship policy a passing grade, suggesting only minor changes.


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